Is there anything more appropriate than Brian Wilson’s 75th birthday being on the first day of summer? Nope. In honor of Brian’s milestone here is a quick review of one of his and his buddies best albums.
The Beach Boys Today! was a big turning point for the group. Growing weary of beach themed music and psychologically stressed from touring, Brian took up marijuana as a stress reliever and rediscovered his creative edge. He began to tweak the band’s songs, exploring deeper themes of life and love. He also began to utilize a wider array of instruments such as brass instruments, harpsichords, tack pianos, and sleigh bells.
Known throughout the early 60s for their catchy singles, Today! feels like the band’s first REAL album. I like the older releases but they feel disposable. You could rearrange the tracklistings on any of them and nothing would change. Today! is different. The songs are slower, lush, more ballads. There’s a progression. It’s less about burger stands and Hondas, more about maintaining relationships and soul searching. There’s a reason the remarkably unremarkable TNT show Men of a Certain Age used “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” as their theme song. Side note: when I saw the Beach Boys play this song in 2012 they totally f’ed up the intro. Goes to show how hard it is to replicate Wilson’s classically complex vocal arrangements on stage.
Other members of the band saw their roles expand as more than just Brian and Mike sing the singles. Dennis gets to lead off the album with a Phil Spector-esque rendition of “Do You Wanna Dance?” and Al Jardine sings what would become his signature song with “Help Me, Ronda.” Brian runs the show but Today! shows his ability to delegate and trust his bandmates to deliver his message. This may have been the band at their most cohesive. Everyone was still playing instruments at this point and the band still felt like a band.
Of course, not long after, Brian thrust himself into laying the groundwork for the legendary Pet Sounds. There were two albums rushed out between Today! and Pet Sounds (mostly to please the label) but from here on out Brian would continue to evolve the band’s sound up to the point of a full on mental breakdown. In conclusion, Today! is a nice waypoint between the two eras of the Beach Boys. It gives you a taste of their innocent radio pop of the early 60s and their baroque pop exploration in the latter half of the decade. A unique work by a unique group with an extraordinary leader.
Good Vibrations and Happy Birthday Brian Wilson.
Favorite Tracks: “Help Me, Ronda,” “She Knows Me Too Well,” “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)”